Subsidies are sticky

I was poking around Fit And Feminist recently, and came across this post from about a year ago, a reaction to Mark Bittman’s suggestion that we should “tax things like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks” and “subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit”. This quote sort of hit me:

This kind of behind-the-scenes engineering of demand-and-supply Bittman is promoting is not a new thing, and in fact has been in place since at least the Depression, when the government began subsidizing corn, wheat, soybeans, etc.  Those subsidies remain in place, and the result is that we are now flooded with products that consist of these things in one way or another.

80 years. We have had those subsidies for about 80 years*. There’s a decent amount of popular support to get rid of them. We still can’t get rid of them. I would like to get rid of them, if only because I tend to dislike corporate welfare. That may be the strongest argument yet for why we shouldn’t subsidize the Bittman-approved foods, even if it seems to be a good idea for our present situation. Because if the situation changes, we’ll have some entrenched interests that will keep us from eliminating them.

*IIRC, until the Nixon era, the farmers were paid to not plant crops, rather than to plant crops. We can change the form of the subsidy more easily than we can stop giving them money.

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